Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Objects along a route can help us to successfully navigate through our surroundings. Previous neuroimaging research has shown that the parahippocampal gyrus (PHG) distinguishes between objects that were previously encountered at navigationally relevant locations (decision points) and irrelevant locations (nondecision points) during simple object recognition. This study aimed at unraveling how this neural marking of objects relevant for navigation is established during learning and postlearning rest. Twenty-four participants were scanned using fMRI while they were viewing a route through a virtual environment. Eye movements were measured, and brain responses were time-locked to viewing each object. The PHG showed increased responses to decision point objects compared with nondecision point objects during route learning. We compared functional connectivity between the PHG and the rest of the brain in a resting state scan postlearning with such a scan prelearning. Results show that functional connectivity between the PHG and the hippocampus is positively related to participants' self-reported navigational ability. On the other hand, connectivity with the caudate nucleus correlated negatively with navigational ability. These results are in line with a distinction between egocentric and allocentric spatial representations in the caudate nucleus and the hippocampus, respectively. Our results thus suggest a relation between navigational ability and a neural preference for a specific type of spatial representation. Together, these results show that the PHG is immediately involved in the encoding of navigationally relevant object information. Furthermore, they provide insight into the neural correlates of individual differences in spatial ability.